How to properly wind a fishing reel
If a donut without a hole is actually a danish, then a spool without a line is just a paperweight. In fact, I will go further. A spool that is not spooled properly with the right type and size of line is going to make you want to pull your hair out. That’s why it’s so important to get it right – the alternative is misery.
Whether you’re using a baitcasting reel or a spinning reel, changing lines regularly and correctly is key to casting longer, more accurate casts and ensuring you lose fewer fish. Here’s how to make sure you’re properly equipped for the water.
Choose the right line type and size
Line Club Rule One: Don’t Buy Cheap Line. I’m not saying you have to find microscopic braids made from virgin angora goat hair, but whether you’re using braid, monofilament, fluorocarbon, or copolymer, don’t skimp. The particular type you buy will depend on your tactics and the species you are chasing, but make sure it is suitable for the reel size and drag systems.
Sure, you can put 50lb mono on an ultralight reel. But not only will you only get 3 or 4 yards of it, it will barely come out of the light spool. On the other hand, you can put a super light line on your swimbait baitcasting reel, but it can slip into holes where it is not wanted, break on the hook, and it will take miles of material to even get close to the lip of the coil.
Remember that the braid has the least stretch and the smallest diameter per pound test. For this reason, it takes more of the same force to fill a coil. Mono has the most stretch. Fluoro is between the two and is the least visible, but unless you buy the super premium material (which comes with a super premium price), it can be harder to work with, especially on the spinning material.
Make sure it’s fresh
A good line is determined by the right type and the right size, but also by its vintage. Find brands you love and don’t buy products with inches of dust on them because they sat on the shelf too long. Once home, store it out of direct sunlight, preferably in a cool drawer or bag somewhere. Visitors to my office may be surprised that my main filing cabinet is actually an online drawer, but I like it that way. Right next to it is a “to-go bag” that I use to carry the varieties and sizes I’ll need on any given overnight trip. Braid stays fresh longer than mono or fluoro so I change it less, usually when it starts to fade or fray. If in doubt, change it. It’s worth avoiding the heartache of a line break or excessive twist.
line it up
OK, you have chosen the line you are going to use. Now you need to attach it to the spool. Typically I reel in the boat or garage, but I also keep a short casting rod and a short fishing rod in my home office for this purpose. Thread the line through the lowest and tallest guide and then onto the spool. Remember that braid is slippery, so if this is your main line, tie it to the spool or use a holder to prevent slipping on your hook sets.
In fact, unless you expect to constantly drop close to the spool, add backing no matter what – it will save you on the amount of line you have to add back each time. I’ve heard some people say they just transfer the old line from one spool to the other, reversing it and exposing the previously unused part to the elements, but that sounds like a monumental pain in the butt to me. .
Phone a friend
If you want to make sure the process goes smoothly and quickly, ask someone to help you. If you’re dealing with a bunch of reels (prior to our trips to Mexico, I’ll often unwind and rewind up to 15 for me and my wife combined), that’s a time-consuming process. Hell, I think that’s half the reason some people have kids – for someone to hold the pencil in the middle of the spool and apply tension. Then again, once you get into a beat, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself in front of the TV.
Consider the tools
The good news about this process is that once you have the rods, reels, and line, you don’t need anything more to get the job done. You can even hold a coil between your toes if needed. Again, part of the fun of fishing is investing in all sorts of Rube Goldberg tools and gear to “make life easier”.
The one I can’t do without is a line stripper. Several manufacturers make simple battery-powered tools that will quickly remove line from your reels, or you can adapt a power drill to do the same. There are also all sorts of systems designed to store and wind line onto your spools. Some bass boats now come with tensioned pegs for this purpose. Alternatively, you can purchase a standalone model that does the same thing. There are even clamps that attach to your rod blank to hold the spool in the correct position, with proper tension. A decidedly low-tech tool that I regularly use for this purpose is a square hotel room ice bucket, which holds a spool perfectly for my purposes. I apologize to various Best Westerns, Days Inns and No-Tell-Motels across the country for my inadvertent theft.
If you are filling a reel, the number one thing you are trying to protect against is line twist. It will happen eventually, but you don’t want to start behind the eight ball. With your line threaded through this first guide, attach it to the reel spool, lay the filler spool on the ground, and start spooling. The line should exit the fill spool in the same direction it goes on the spool. At least that’s how it was explained to me. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either.
Here’s the simple fix: If you start spooling and the line starts winding up on its own in all sorts of nasty tangles, flip the filler spool over and it should stop. Either way, make sure there is tension when applying the line so that the loops are tightly wound and not prone to jumping off the spool.
Another solution is to use a braid main line, with some length of fluorocarbon or monofilament. The braid is much less negatively affected by line twisting, and you can easily and inexpensively change the leader daily, or multiple times a day if desired. I recommend learning the semi-complicated FG knot to connect the two lines, as it goes through guides easier than many other connecting knots.
Baitcasting reels generally don’t suffer from the same level of line twist as spinning reels, but they do have their own gremlins. Chief among them is that the line tends to pile up on one side of the spool. To avoid this, use a finger to help the wind level to ensure your fresh line is evenly distributed on the spool and not crisscrossed in a way that will cause gnarly kickback.
Braid and fluorocarbon present their own potential problems. With the former, if your line is wrapped unevenly, you’re going to end up with nasty backlash as different layers intertwine. With the latter, if the line layers intersect in any way, the fluoro can cut each other.
With both types of reels, you’ll typically fill the spools to within an eighth of an inch of the lip. If in doubt, go a little further. You can always drop a line, but it’s less than ideal to underwind.
If you are in any doubt that the line is not twisted or spooled unevenly, let it out behind the boat with a lure attached, then spool it in a straight line. In fact, this is how some people spool their line in the first place, using the natural tension of the water’s surface.
Once everything seems OK, make your first casts smooth and relatively soft – you don’t need to boo a freshly spooled reel before you have a chance to winch fish. Check your drag again as well, so the He-Man hook doesn’t break it.
Give him the treatment
Although most premium lines are self-sufficient out of the box (assuming you’ve stored them properly), some additives can improve performance. I have seen old timers take a just loaded reel spool, remove it from the spool and place it in a bucket of water overnight, the theory being that the loops will now conform to the spool they are on rather than to the one from which they came.
With a braid, which I’m using more and more frequently, it’s not as critical. I am a big fan of some line conditioners though, like Blakemore’s Real Magic, KVD’s Line & Lure Conditioner, Braid Aid and the wonderfully named Reel Snot.
Reel in your line correctly and it will be the last thing on your mind, which is good. Like an irritable child, if you think about it, that means he’s probably misbehaving.